UPDATED 8 p.m. — CNRP acting president Sam Rainsy arrived in Kuala Lumpur this afternoon, an official for the party’s overseas wing said.
Saory Pon, head of CNRP-Overseas, said around 4:30 p.m. that Rainsy had landed at Kuala Lumpur International Airport about an hour prior.
He denied reports that Rainsy had been detained, saying “there were a lot of journalists around him” as he passed through the airport, slowing him down.
“Now he left the airport already. At this point we’re still determining where he will be going, so I can’t say which country,” Pon said when asked where Rainsy was headed next.
However, Rainsy will not be headed toward Cambodia as he promised to do when he announced in August his intentions to return to the country on November 9.
Pon said Rainsy had a personal meeting with the Malaysian Minister of Foreign Affairs scheduled on Sunday.
“He’s not detained. He was invited by the Malaysian government,” he said.
Rainsy and his wife, Tioulong Saumura, a former CNRP parliamentarian, also have a separate meeting with Malaysian MP Nurul Izzah Anwar of the People’s Justice Party on Tuesday, according to a letter of invitation dated Saturday and provided to VOD by Pon.
“We look forward to the meeting to discuss the way forward in pursuing the best socio developmental pathways for both Malaysia and Cambodia,” says the letter, signed by Anwar.
Phil Robertson, Human Right Watch’s deputy Asia director, on Saturday commended Malaysia for allowing Rainsy to enter the country and meet with his colleagues, while criticizing Thailand’s treatment of exiled Cambodians there.
“Respecting basic human rights is not hard, it simply requires the kind of political commitment that Malaysia has shown today,” Robertson said in an emailed statement.
“More governments in ASEAN need to emulate Malaysia if the bloc is ever going to rid itself of its reputation as a rights-abusing club of recalcitrant dictators,” he added.
Rainsy had promised to return to Cambodia on Saturday, but failed to board a flight to Bangkok on Thursday. Earlier on Saturday, party vice president Mu Sochua cast doubt on whether Rainsy would be able to enter Cambodia.
“We want to be in Cambodia,” Sochua said, but “all routes to Cambodia for us are closed.”
Instead, Rainsy was “moving as close as possible” to the country, even though “physically we cannot cross the border,” she said.
Rainsy’s CNRP was dissolved by the Supreme Court in November 2017, and the government has cast the pledged return of its senior leaders as an attempted coup.
Troops have secured Cambodia’s border with Thailand, and armed vehicles could be seen around Phnom Penh on Saturday, including near the international airport.
The CNRP was to hold a press conference in Bangkok at 3:30 p.m., but notified reporters this afternoon that the briefing had been canceled.
Updated at 8 p.m. with details about Sam Rainsy’s November 12 meeting with Malaysian MP Nurul Izzah Anwar and comments from Phil Robertson.